Bubonic Plague Is Making A Comeback, Because 2020 Will Not Chill

I’m sure that some of you, upon reading this headline, checked today’s date in the desperate hope that we had yeeted back in time to April Fool’s Day. But no, it’s 2020, so this is just what the world is like now. It isn’t fun, but at least it’s not boring. We’re not even close to being done with coronavirus, but the universe may already be sending us something even scarier. But instead of just immediately panicking, let’s go through what we know.

This week, public health officials in Jefferson County, Colorado announced that a squirrel tested positive for bubonic plague. Yes, that’s bubonic plague as in, the disease that caused the Black Death of the 14th century, which killed tens of millions of people across Europe and Asia. This news came just one week after China reported a confirmed human case of bubonic plague in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, warning residents not to hunt wild animals.

I’ll be honest, I can’t think of anything that sounds more terrifying than the bubonic plague. It’s like some mysterious medieval disease that’s come back to haunt us in our darkest hour, and even though we don’t learn much about the actual disease itself in school, there’s no doubt that the history of plague is… scary. But as much as we associate bubonic plague with like, the 1300s, it’s never actually completely gone away. According to our friends at the World Health Organization, between 2010 and 2015 there were over 3000 reported cases of plague, resulting in roughly 500 deaths. Left untreated, the death rate for bubonic plague is somewhere from 30-90%, but with treatment, it’s closer to 10%. Those numbers might still sound scary, but the point is that bubonic plague has been around this whole time, we just normally don’t hear about it.

The WHO reports that the three countries with the highest rates of plague are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, and Peru, but the idea that there could be a plague-ridden squirrel in your backyard (if you live in Colorado) is less than ideal. According to David Volkle, a Jefferson County environmental specialist, local authorities became aware of the squirrel after a resident reported that they had seen 15 squirrels die “within a period of two to three weeks.” The last squirrel to die was the only one tested, but it’s likely that bubonic plague is responsible for the rest of the deaths as well. 15 squirrels sounds like a lot, but chances are you don’t need to be too worried. But just in case (and because 2020 is a nightmare), let’s go over how people actually get infected with plague, and what the symptoms look like.

According to the Jefferson County public health notice, “Humans may be infected with plague through bites from infected fleas, by the cough from an infected animal or by direct contact (e.g., through a bite) with blood or tissues of infected animals.” Plague spread so quickly in the 14th century because everything was dirty as f*ck back then, and there were flea-infested animals everywhere. Ew. These days, you probably don’t come into contact with too many rodents (your exes don’t count), but it should be noted that cats are highly susceptible to bubonic plague, and they can contract it from eating or being scratched by a rodent. Dogs are much less susceptible, but they can still carry the disease on fleas.

So if you have pets living in your home, you should probably be extra careful about fleas right now, and the Colorado statement also advises not letting pets roam freely outside the house, and eliminating any sources of food around your house for wild animals. So if you have a bird feeder that the squirrels constantly get into, maybe get rid of that for now, sorry. The Jefferson County public health office says that if you follow these rules, your “risk for getting plague is extremely low.” Phew.

But just in case, the most common symptoms of bubonic plague are “sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes,” usually experienced within the first week of exposure. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, please go see a doctor, because bubonic plague can be treated with antibiotics if diagnosed.

At this point in the hellscape of 2020, it almost feels cathartic to find something new and different to be worried about. But really, you’re way more likely to get COVID-19 than you are to get stung by a murder hornet or bitten by a bubonic flea, so just keep focusing on that for now. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and don’t go to Disney World—don’t stress yourself out more than you need to.

Images: Shane Young / Unsplash; parkermolloy, grace_segers / Twitter

Is Your Work-Life Balance Making You Sick?

Late 20s culture is many things: your friends all getting married when you can’t even get a second date, your idea of cooking beginning and ending with boiling water to make pasta, and wondering at what age you officially have to start making your own doctors appointments. But probably the biggest aspect of late 20s culture is being stressed. Stressed about dating, stressed about work, stressed about the fact that our planet might be beyond repair and we may all die very soon in the real-life incarnation of 28 Days Later. And it’s no wonder we’re all stressed about work: college tuition has more than doubled since the 1980s, leaving many millennials saddled with debt ($17,126 per graduate who took out loans) that nearly half say wasn’t worth it. On top of that, millennials are underemployed, comprising 52% of hourly low-wage employees (yet about 61% attended college). More than half of millennials have a side hustle. Given all that information, it’s safe to say that we as a generation spend a lot of time thinking (worrying) about employment and money. So it should be no surprised that “burnout”, a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress, is not only an official term, but now an actual medical condition, according to the World Health Organization.

Late 20s culture is calling yourself an alcoholic who will never find love, but getting low-key offended when people tag you in memes about binge drinking and being alone forever

— sarafcarter (@sarafcarter) May 9, 2019

Do you feel that? That’s probably a weight getting lifted off your shoulders now that there’s an actual term for the crushing pressure you’ve been feeling for years. Or maybe that’s just me.

So, first of all, the fact that the WHO classified burnout as a real medical condition is a pretty big deal. Many look to the WHO for guidance, and since they included burnout in their latest handbook for recognized medical conditions (called the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health), it gives legitimacy to people who experience burnout. Think of it this way: the next time I cry to my dad about being overworked at my job (when really I’m just having a bad Adderall comedown), and he tells me that I need to do something to manage my stress, I can be like, “look, I have an actual medical condition and it’s not just stress”.


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A vicious cycle.

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In other words, if you are actually experiencing burn-out, it’s important that the actual condition is recognized by the WHO so people don’t dismiss you as just being “stressed” or “tired” or “on your period”. Because, first of all, burnout only refers to the concept in the occupational context, so like, going on too many dates and being tired of searching for a romantic partner doesn’t qualify as burnout in the medical sense. It also has three qualifications to meet the definition:

1) Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion,

2) Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, or

3) Reduced professional efficacy

Cool, so I am like, 99% positive that I suffer from burnout right now. Or at least, that I have definitely suffered from it in the past (I go through those symptoms in waves). So the question is: What do I (or you, since you are reading this article) do about it?

In short, nothing really, right now. In theory, you could go to the doctor and get diagnosed with burnout (ruling out other similarly manifesting conditions, such as adjustment disorder, anxiety, or depression, The Cut notes). But then what? Can I use that to request extended time off, like would it qualify under short-term disability coverage? Can I get a Xanax prescription for it? (Kidding.)

Of course, burnout being classified as a medical condition by the WHO is a good thing, especially since, as the last two symptoms imply, it is bad for employers as well as employees. That might be the only way to get employers to actually care—to make it clear that overworking their employees can affect their own bottom line. It remains to be seen just what the impact will be of burnout being recognized as a medical condition, but, much like Instagram removing like counts, it’s better than nothing, and fixing our overly demanding corporate culture has to start somewhere.

Do you ever put a bullshit task on your to-do list just so you can feel like you accomplished something? Like “empty out trash folder” is not an accomplishment but it’s where I’m at today

— Betches (@betchesluvthis) March 15, 2019

Images: sarafcarter, betchesluvthis / Twitter; whenshappyhr / Instagram